Gupta Dynasty

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  • The Gupta dynasty was kept north India politically united for more than a century.
  • The original kingdom of the Gupta empire comprised Uttar Pradesh and Bihar at the end of the 3rd century A.D.
  • They could exploit the iron ores of central India and south Bihar.
  • Gupta dynasty took advantage of the north Indian silk trade with the Eastern Roman empire (Byzantine empire).
  • With those favorable factors they set up their rule over Anuganga (the middle Gangetic basin), Prayag, Saketa (modern Ayodhya) and Magadha.
  • Gupta dynasty period is called the Golden Age of India

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gupta dynasty chandragupta II samudragupta allahabad pillar inscription fa hien

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Origin of Gupta Dynasty 

  • The original homeland of the Guptas is not known for certain.
  • Gupta dynasty might have originated from Bengal or Prayag.
  • They are thought to be either Brahmins or Vaishyas.
  • The founder of the Gupta dynasty is Sri Gupta (240 to 280 AD).
  • He was succeeded by his son Ghatotkacha (280 to 319 AD).
  • Both Sri Gupta and Ghatotkacha are mentioned as Maharaja in inscriptions.
  • Pataliputra was the capital of the Gupta dynasty.

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Chandragupta I  (320-35)

  • Chandragupta I was the son of Ghatotkacha.
  • He enhanced his power and prestige by marrying Kumaradevi, princess of Lichchhavi clan of Nepal.
  • Chandragupta I issued coins in the joint names of his queen and himself.
  • He assumed the title of Maharajadhiraja (great king of kings).
  • He was successful in building a small principality into a great kingdom.
  • Chandragupta I is considered the first great king of the Gupta Empire.

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gupta dynasty chandragupta II samudragupta

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Samudragupta   (335-80)

  • Samudragupta was son of Chandragupta I and Kumaradevi.
  • As per his inscription, samudragupta defeated nine kings of the Ganges Valley, twelve kings from the southern region and eighteen forest tribes.
  • His kingdom extended from the Himalayas in the north to the Krishna and Godavari Rivers in the south; and from Balkh (Afghanistan) in the west to Brahmaputra River in the east.
  • According to Allahabad pillar inscription, Samudragupta received tributes from many kings of south-east Asia.
  • He celebrated his conquests by performing an ‘Ashvamedha’ and issued an ashvamedha coins
  • He was a follower of Vaishnavite Hinduism but was tolerant of other faiths.
  • Buddhist philosopher Vasubandhu was one of his ministers.
  • Samudragupta gave permission to the king of Sri Lanka, Meghavarna to build a monastery in Bodh Gaya.
  • He was also called “Indian Napoleon” by art historian Vincent Smith.
  • He also performed Ashvamedha sacrifice. Hence, one of his coins refers to him as “the restorer of Ashvamedha.”
  • Samudraguptae was also called “Kaviraja” since he composed verses.
  • His love for music can be seen by his coins that represent him playing on the veena.
  • Inscriptions of Samudragupta
    • Allahabad stone pillar
    • Eran stone pillar
    • Nalanda copper plate
    • Gaya copper plate

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Allahabad Pillar Inscription

  • Allahabad pillar inscription is one of the pillars of Ashoka
  • 2nd inscriptions done in the time of Samudragupta
  • It was scripted by Harisena court poet of Samudragupta
  • It is in sanskrit written in Gupta script (Brahmi)
  • 3rd inscriptions done in the time of Jahangir
  • It is in Persian and carved by Mir Abdullah Mushkin Qalam
  • Jahangir inscription overwrites Ashoka inscription

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Chandragupta II (380 – 415 AD)

  • Chandragupta II was the son of Samudragupta and his queen Dattadevi.
  • He was also known as ‘Vikramaditya’.
  • He further annexed territories including Saurashtra which gave him the western coastline.
  • Gupta empire’s prosperity grew through trade links with Roman Empires.
  • Chandragupta II used matrimonial alliances to expand his kingdom.
  • He also annexed three Satrapa kingdoms and assumed the title Sakari (destroyer of the Sakas).
  • He defeated the Saka king Rudrasimha III thus acquiring Saurashtra and Kathiawar.
  • After East and West India, Chandragupta II defeated northern rulers also like the Hunas, Kambojas, Kiratas, etc.
  • Greatest territorial expansion of the Gupta empire was reached during Chandragupta II reign.
  • Chandragupta II also exercised indirect control over the Vakataka kingdom.
  • He was a brilliant conqueror and an able administrator as well.
  • Like his father, he was a Vaishnavite but was tolerant of other religions.
  • His other names (as mentioned in coins) include Vikrama, Devagupta, Devaraja, Simhavikrama, Vikramaditya Sakari, etc.
  • Chandragupta II was the first ruler to issue silver coins.
  • He also issued copper and gold (dinara) coins .
  • His court had nine jewels or Navaratnas.
    • Kalidasa – Classical Sanskrit poet, wrote Abhijananashakuntalam, Meghaduta.
    • Varahamihira –  Mathematician, author of Brihat Samhita.
    • Amarasimha – Sanskrit lexicographer, wrote Amarakosha, vocabulary of Sanskrit
    • Dhanvantri – Physician, the father of Ayurveda
    • Ghatakarapara – Sculpture
    • Shanku – Architect
    • Kahapanaka – An astrologer, wrote the Jyothisyashastra.
    • Vararuchi – Grammarian, author of the Prakrit Prakasha, first grammar of the Prakrit language.
    • Vetala Bhatta – A magician, wrote Mantrashastra
  • Fa-Hien, a Buddhist from China visited India during his reign.
  • He records the prosperity of the Gupta Empire.
  • Inscriptions of Chandragupta II
    • Mehrauli Iron Pillar inscription in Delhi
    • Udayagiri Cave Inscription in MP

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Mehrauli Iron Pillar
Mehrauli Iron Pillar, Delhi

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Kumaragupta I  (415-55)

  • Kumaragupta was the son and successor of Chandragupta II
  • He was the founder of the Nalanda University.
  • Kumaragupta was a worshipper of lord Karttikeya
  • He was also called Shakraditya.
  • At the end of his reign, a powerful wealthy tribe called the ‘Pushyamitras’ defeated the Gupta army.
  • Successive waves of Hun invasion made the Gupta empire very weak
  • Inscriptions of Kumaragupta
    • Bilsad inscription
    • Damodar Copper plate inscriptions

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Skandagupta  (455-67)

  • He was the son of Kumaragupta I.
  • Skandagupta fought successfully against the Huns and saved the empire.
  • He adopted the title Vikramaditya.
  • In his region, the central control weakened and local governors became feudatory kings with hereditary rights.
  • Inscriptions of Skandagupta
    • Junagarh Rock inscription
    • Bhitari Pillar
    • Indore Stone Pillar

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Other Gupta Rulers

  • The Gupta Empire declined after the death of Skandagupta.
  • Many of his successors like Purugupta, Narasimhagupta, Buddhagupta and Baladitya could not save the Gupta empire from the Huns.
  • The last recognised king of the Gupta dynasty was Vishnugupta who reigned from 540 to 550 AD.
  • By the beginning of the sixth century, the empire had disintegrated and was ruled by many regional chieftains.

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gupta dynasty chandragupta II samudragupta
Nalanda University

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Reasons for Decline of Gupta Empire

  • Successive Hun Invasions
    • Hun chief Toramana was able to conquer large parts of western India
    • Banabhatta in his Harshcharitra refers to the Huns invasion
  • Rise of Feudatories
    • The power of Gupta dynasty was curbed by the rise of feudatories.
  • Gradual Decline in Economic Prosperity
    • Loss of western Indian ports and foreign trade

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Administration of Gupta Dynasty

  • The Gupta administration was decentralized in nature and contained many feudatories like local kings and smaller chiefs.
  • Feudatories post was hereditary in nature.
  • Provinces in Gupta’s period were known as Bhuktis & provincial governors Uparikas
  • King maintained close contacts with provincial administration through a class of officials called “Kumaramatyas” & “Ayuktas”
  • Provinces were divided into districts Vishayas under charge of Vishayapati
  • All foreign affairs were looked after by foreign affair minister known as “Sandivigraha”
  • Villagers were subjected to forced labour called Vishti for serving royal army & officials

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Religion & Social Culture

  • Brahamans formed the top ladder & receive numerous gifts
  • Brahamanism reigned supreme during Gupta period & had 2 branches mainly, Vaishnavism & Shaivism
  • Vaishnavism was more prevalent (Bhagavatism)
  • The chandalas were untouchables
  • They lived outside the village and had to maintain distance from the upper castes.
  • Fahien accounts shows a decline of Budhhism in Gangetic valley but a few budhhist monks like Vasubandhu were patronised by Gupta kings
  • The status of women deteriorated further in the Gupta period.

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fa hien
Scene from the Ramayana

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Literature, Art and Architecture

  • The literature was written in Sanskrit in this period .
  • The two epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, were compiled in the 4th century.
  • The Vishnu Purana, Vayu Purana, and the Matsya Purana were also compiled in Gupta period.
  • Some great writers were
    • Shudraka – Writer of the play Mrichchhkatikam
    • Vishakhadatta – Author of Mudrarakshasa
    • Bhasa – Writer of Charudatta
    • Vishnusharman – Author of the Panchatantra
  • Art of Gupta period was greatly influenced by Buddhism
  • The paintings of Ajanta caves are the finest examples of Buddhist art during Gupta period.
  • Indian temple architecture started in the time of Gupta dynasty.
  • These temples were made in the Nagara architectural style.
  • The sculptures pertaining show a continuation of the Mathura and the Gandhara schools.
  • New styles of art also introduced.
  • The Bamiyan Buddha sculptures also belonged to this period
  • The Gupta coins are also pieces of art.
  • Coins are well designed and meticulously crafted.

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Science and Technology

  • The Gupta period is unparalleled for its achievements in mathematics and astronomy.
  • Varahamihira’s Panchsiddhanta, is the earliest dateable text to use zero both as a symbol and a number.
  • Aryabhatta
    • Father of Algebra and the earliest known astronomer of India
    • The Suryasiddhanta, was also written by Aryabhatta, contains sine tables.
    • He was the first to invent zero and to recommend the use of the decimal system.
    • He was first to discover that the earth rotates on its axis and estimated of the length of a year
    • Aryabhatta gave scientific explanation of eclipses
    • He laid foundations of trigonometry.
    • He gave a very accurate value of pi (π)
  • Brahmagupta
    • He wrote the Brahmasputasiddhanta (628 CE)
    • In this book he hinted at the Law of Gravitation
  • Sushruta
    • The famous author of the Sushruta Samhita
    • It deals with surgery.
  • Metallurgy also saw technological advancement in Gupta period.
  • The iron pillar at Mehrauli, Delhi, standing in the open, and not gathered rust even after 15 centuries

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Fa Hien Visit to India

  • The famous Chinese pilgrim, Fahien (399-414) visited India during the reign of Chandragupta Il
  • He elaborate account of the life of its people in his book ‘FoKyoKi’
  • Fa Hien came to India by the land route through Khotan, Kashgar, Gandhara and Punjab.
  • He visited Peshawar, Mathura, Kanauj, Sravasti, Kapilavastu, Kusinagara, Pataliputra, Kasi and Gaya among other places.
  • He returned by the sea route, visiting on the way Ceylon and Java.
  • The main purpose of his visit was to see the land of the Buddha and to collect Buddhist manuscripts from India.
  • He stayed in Pataliputra years studying Sanskrit and copying Buddhist texts.
  • He refers to the Gangetic valley as the land of Brahmanism.
  • Fa Hien mentions the unsatisfactory state of some of the Buddhist holy places like Kapilavastu and Kusinagara.
  • He did not mention the name of Chandragupta Il.
  • Fa Hien was not interested in political affairs and his interest was primarily religion.

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